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I recently covered an Engineering Technology class and was asked to teach them my lesson on Binary Code to a group of 5th graders. I love filling in at this school because they really allow me to use my strengths and dig into my bag of tricks. I havent taught this lesson in at least a year, so I felt it needed a quick update. I am always tweaking and changing lessons based on lessons learned. I thought this lesson would be a great one to add a bit of gamification too.

So much of our world is technology based. Our homes have become smart homes with interconnected security, TV and internet. We use bluetooth while driving, we access streaming music services and so much more. So, it is important for our students, our future leaders, movers and shakers, to understand how computers think and communicate. All ‘digital’ technology, such as CDs, mobile phones, fiber optics, and satellite communications use binary numbers. We now live in a digital world, and the most important digits are 1 and 0! I also love anything with codes and cryptology so binary hits two of my happy centers. Hence, the lesson on binary code.

One of the great things about learning binary, is that not only do students learn how our technology communicates and processes information but it meets so many standards, ISTE, CS standards, Common Core Math and more. I took a look at several of the standard documents and was astounded by how many standards a lesson on binary could potentially meet.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Students 2016

1.a - Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.

1.c - Use models and simulation to explore complex systems and issues.

2.d - Contribute to project teams to solve problems.

4.b - Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.

6.a - Understand and use technology systems.

6.d - Transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards

CT.L1:3-03. Understand how to arrange information into useful order without using a computer.

CT.L1:6-03. Demonstrate how a string of bits can be used to represent alphanumeric information.

CT.L1:3-05. Demonstrate how 0s and 1s can be used to represent information.

CT.L2-07. Represent data in a variety of ways: text, sounds, pictures, numbers.

CT.L2-08. Use visual representations of problem states, structures, and data.

Common Core Mathematical Practices

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

4. Model with mathematics.

6. Attend to precision.

7. Look for and make use of structure.

8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

How can you not introduce binary in your classroom when it is so powerful a concept!

For my lesson on binary, I always like to have an intro activity that students can get started on while everyone is arriving and getting settled. As this lesson is completely unplugged I had to think beyond Kahoot and traditional games for my gamification of the lesson. So, my entrance activity became a 20 questions game to see if they were paying attention yesterday when they watched videos and talked about what binary code was. Students were given 5 minutes and 20 questions to guess the code word for the lesson. That code word? Binary, of course! I put a 5 minute timer up on the screen that I found on YouTube....mainly because it was a little more interesting to me than the standard Google timer I use.

The lesson then moves into what binary is and how to read and write binary code. Code.org recently released several YouTube videos on How Computers work that are excellent for explaining how computers work and the binary system in a clear and concise method.

I found a fun interactive that allows you to see how a computer counts and then some decipher activities for the whole class. We have interactive Epsom projectors at the school, and our students love when they get to use the interactive pens. This interactive allows students to turn on and off different bits to see how a computer adds. I throw out a number and each student takes a turn with the pens to create the sum I asked. Depending on the size of the class, this could be the stopping place for the lesson, which it was for us. We only have 40 minutes for this Engineering and Technology class and the class has 24 students.

On day two, I go into coding letters using the binary system. I included a class wide game for groups to decipher the letter I have written in binary on the screen. They will remember my name written in binary on one of the first slides of the presentation yesterday and typically get super excited about writing in code! The lesson culminates with each of the students writing their name in binary and some secret messages for me to decipher. I will caution you, the deciphering of messages can be cumbersome, but the kids love secret messages so their engagement is so worth the headache!

I have taught this lesson as a one and as a two day lesson, so I have a lot of extensions and additional games that could be played as part of it. There are a lot of resources out there on binary code but here are a few I like. I truly despise worksheets so I avoid them at all costs!

You can get my lesson here and checkout these additional resources below to add to your binary lesson plans.

#computerscience #STEM #middleschoolSTEM #binarycode #codeorg #csunplugged

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